The Newberry Library will display an exhibition on William Shakespeare, “The Bard is Born,” in cooperation with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and The Shakespeare Project of Chicago, from Tuesday, April 22, 2014 to Saturday, June 21, 2014. Last month, the Newberry Library stated, “To mark The Bard’s birthday—April 23—and celebrate his work, The Newberry has partnered with Chicago Shakespeare Theater and The Shakespeare Project of Chicago to host a small but spectacular exhibition featuring more than 40 items from the three institutions. ‘The Bard Is Born’ will be open April 22 through June 21. It will focus in part on Henry V, the first play performed—on the roof of the Red Lion Pub—by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the one being performed there April 29 through June 15 of this year.”
Highlights of the exhibition include a First Folio; a musical score, composed circa 1500, titled “Victory of Agincourt;” a stunning, oversized, nineteenth-century engraving titled “The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions;” and Chicago Shakespeare Theater Founder and Artistic Director Barbara Gaines’s annotated copy of Henry V from that first, rooftop performance. Like all Newberry exhibitions, “The Bard Is Born” is free and open to the public.
Henry V is The Bard’s legendary coming-of-age story, in which a charismatic young monarch confronted by the ferocity of war proves his worth as a man—and king. The play is Shakespeare’s rallying cry, celebrating the power of language to summon battlefields from thin air and ignite our souls to action.
The night before the exhibition opening, the Newberry will warmly welcome Ms. Gaines and Former Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library Gail Kern Paster for a lively discussion on The Bard’s work, and his work as performance. The exhibition will be open before and during the discussion, which begins at 6 p.m. Monday, April 21, and is part of the 'Conversations at the Newberry' series, sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray.
At 11:00 a.m. Saturday, April 26, 2014 The Newberry Library will once again host long-time partner Shakespeare Project of Chicago, which will perform a staged reading of All’s Well That Ends Well. The Newberry Library stated, “For the past decade, The Shakespeare Project has enchanted Newberry audiences with magnificent staged readings of The Bard’s plays—all free and open to the public.”
A much larger, international exhibition will be held at the Newberry in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death—also on April 23.
According to the Scottish literary historian John William Mackail, O.M. (1859-1945), an expert on both Virgil and Shakespeare, “The traditional date of Shakespeare’s birth is April 23rd, 1564. He was christened in Stratford Church on the 26th: the date assigned for his birth is probable enough, but its acceptance is mainly due to its being the day of St George, the patron saint of England, and also the day, fifty-two years later, of his own death.”
I recommend one borrow from one’s public library (or rent from Netflix or purchase from Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com or Best Buy) the following seven theatrical films by four directors that are direct adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays: Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Romeo & Juliet (1968), and Hamlet (1990); Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) and Much Ado About Nothing (1993); Michael Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999); and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012).
The Taming of the Shrew stars the then married couple of Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) as Kate and Richard Burton (1925-1984) as Petruchio. Romeo & Juliet stars real teenagers Leonard Whiting as Romeo Montague and Olivia Hussey as Juliet Capulet. Hamlet stars Mel Gibson (who also produced the film) as Prince Hamlet, Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, Paul Scofield (1922-2008) as the ghost of King Hamlet, Sir Alan Bates (1934-2003) as King Claudius, Glen Close as Queen Gertrude, and Sir Ian Holm as Polonius.
Henry V stars Branagh as King Henry V of England, his then-wife Emma Thompson as Princess Katherine of France, Sir Derek Jacobi as the Chorus, Brian Blessed as the Duke of Exeter, Paul Scofield as King Charles VI of France, Sir Ian Holm as the Welsh captain Fluellen, and Christian Bale as “Boy.” Much Ado About Nothing stars Branagh as Benedick, Emma Thompson as Beatrice, Brian Blessed as Beatrice’s father Antonio, Denzel Washington as Don Pedro of Aragon, Keanu Reeves as Don Pedro’s villainous illegitimate half-brother Don John, Robert Sean Leonard as the easily deceived Claudio, Kate Beckinsale as Hero, and Michael Keaton as Dogberry the constable.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream stars Kevin Kline as Nick Bottom, Rupert Everett as King Oberon, Michelle Pfeiffer as Queen Titania, Stanley Tucci as Puck, Calista Flockhart as Helena, Anna Friel as Hermia, Christian Bale as Demetrius, Dominic West as Lysander, David Strathairn as Duke Theseus of Athens, Sophie Marceau as Hippolyta, fiancée of Theseus. Whereas Zeffirelli and Branagh depicted the plays when and where Shakespeare set them, Hoffman depicts the play’s events as taking place in the late 19th Century and in the fictional town of Monte Athena, Italy. However, given that Shakespeare himself freely mixed Greek mythology about an early Athenian king with Celtic folklore about fairies, it would be difficult to come up with a time and place for the story that did seem right.
Whedon filmed his black-and-white Much Ado About Nothing (2012) in twelve days at his own house, where he has frequently held Shakespeare readings with his actor friends over the years. The cast is almost wholly comprised of actors and actresses who worked with him before on some combination of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004), Firefly (2002) and Serenity (2005), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008), Dollhouse (2009), The Cabin in the Woods (2012), and The Avengers (2012). It stars Alexis Denisof as Benedick and Amy Acker as Beatrice; Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon; Nathan Fillion as Constable Dogberry; Clark Gregg as Governor Leonto, father of Hero; Fran Kranz as Count Claudio; Jillian Morgese as Hero; and Sean Maher as Don John, Don Pedro’s conniving illegitimate brother.
There are also two indirect adaptations I recommend. Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) with Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) transposes the plot of Macbeth to feudal Japan. Forbidden Planet (1956) with Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010), Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984), Anne Francis (1930-2011), and Robbie the Robot transposes the plot of The Tempest to another planet in the future with a colonial scientist using re-discovered advanced technologies of a dead alien species instead of an exiled duke using magic.
I highly recommend Al Paccino’s documentary Looking for Richard (1996), which concerns his production of Richard III in New York City with Kevin Spacey and Winona Ryder. The film includes interviews with scholars about the life of William Shakespeare and interviews with famous actors, including Jacobi, Branagh, Kline, Sir John Gielgud (1904-2000), and James Earl Jones about why they love reading and performing Shakespeare’s works. In a similar vein, I recommend the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows (2003-2006), a dramady about a fictional Shakespeare Festival that is both a loving tribute to the real Shakespearean theatrical world and a satire of it. Paul Gross stars as a brilliant theatrical director literally haunted by the ghost of his predecessor. Other cast members and guest stars included Rachel McAdams, Colm Feore, Geraint Wyn Davies, Joanne Kelly, and Sarah Polley.